The urban jungle of Naples is Europe’s most densely populated city, and it is also densely populated with things to see. Explore the tangle of streets and follow these suggestions to get as much as you can from the city in just one day.
Piazza del Plebiscito
Begin your day in the grandest square in Naples, the Piazza del Plebiscito. In stark contrast to the rest of Naples, which is famed for its tight, narrow streets, the piazza provides you with a large open space that is glorious on a sunny day. At one end of the piazza, with a curved colonnade either side, is the Chiesa di San Francesco that was built to mimic Rome’s Pantheon. Walk inside this goliath of a building and admire the huge columns and the spherical dome that sits on top.
On the other side of the piazza is the Royal Palace of Naples. This lavish palace doubles as a museum, exhibiting decadent tapestries, furniture, paintings and frescoes that formed a part of the Royal apartments. As you enter, you’ll be greeted by the sweeping staircase of honour that was built in 1651 by Picchiatti and was decorated by Genoese in 1837. To the north of the palace is an incredible garden that was created in 1841. If you love to explore Italy’s opulent past, then a tour around this site is for you.
Gesu Nuovo church
A 20-minute walk south of Piazza del Plebiscito is the baroque church of Gesu Nuovo. The seemingly simple, studded exterior creates a modest casing for the dazzling interior that rivals some of the most decadent of Italy’s basilicas. The church is the final resting place of Giuseppe Moscati, a Christian doctor famed for helping the poor. When he died in 1927, the people proclaimed that he should be made a saint after it was proved that he cured two people of deadly diseases. He was eventually granted his sainthood in 1987. Notice the polished appearance of the hands on his statue. This is because of his worshipers frequently touching his hands during worship.
Within the church you can also view a small museum, featuring thanks for prayers that were answered, each displaying a symbol of the ailment that was cured. There is also a bomb casing here that fell into the church during the Second World War. Since it destroyed almost nothing, many say that this was evidence of another miracle by Moscati.
If you like to hunt for the hidden gems of a city then what you’re looking for might be right under your nose…literally. Beneath the streets of Naples lies an underground world of ruins from Greek and Roman times called Napoli Sotteranea. Descend 40 metres into the earth and discover the network of tunnels and rooms. Here you can explore the aqueducts that date back 23 centuries, the WWII air raid shelters, and the Hypogeum Garden, which aims to grow plants away from pollution and light. One of the highlights here is the Roman theatre and the dressing room of Emperor Nero. Most sections are illuminated by lights, however, there are some areas that are explored with hand-held candles, casting an eerie glow over the ancient stonework.
The Catacombs of Naples
If you want to continue your exploration of the underground world of Naples, then you can head north from Napoli Sotteranea to visit the catacombs. This subterranean cemetery was carved from the tuff stone and dates to the 2nd century AD when it would have belonged to a noble family. The tombs were expanded in the 4th-century when an underground basilica was constructed to hold the remains of the first patron of Naples, St. Agrippinus. Unlike the huge basilicas seen throughout Italy, this underground version consists of a single nave with a bishop’s chair carved into the stone and an altar.
The networks of tunnels and tombs are lit in such a way as to highlight the dramatic beauty and eerie purpose of the space and a visit here will provide a fantastic insight into Naples’s ancient history.
You don’t need to walk through a gallery to find the best art in Naples, much of it is found on the streets. Graffiti artists love this city and see it’s walls as a blank canvas ready for their distinct style of art. One of the most famous pieces in Naples is the Madonna with a Pistol by none other than Banksy. This piece sees the Madonna with a pistol hovering above her head, representing the troubled connection between organised crime and religion in the area. The Madonna can be found down a narrow alley just off Piazza Gerolomini.
In other areas of the city you can find the hyper-real artworks by Jarit Agoch, the mysterious women portraits by Alice Pasquini and the colossal piece by Blu that occupies the walls of an entire building.
Naples is the birthplace of pizza and if you’re visiting the city, even for one day, then your trip isn’t complete without tasting one. But with so many pizzerias found lining the streets, how do you pick which one to try? You can narrow your search by discovering which of the establishments has certification from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. That’s right, Naples has a regulatory body that determines whether the pizza-making techniques and ingredients conform with Neapolitan Tradition. You can identify one of these approved pizzerias from the Pizza Vera sign that hangs above the door.
End your day by heading back to the Piazza del Plebiscito to soak up some Italian high culture at the Teatro di San Carlo Opera House. This incredible opera house is the oldest working theatre in Europe and was designed by Antonio Niccolini in 1816 after the original was destroyed in a fire. The interior is spectacular, boasting plush red and gold decorations as well as a frescoed ceiling depicting Apollo presenting to Minerva the greatest poets of the world. Seeing an opera, classical recital, or ballet here will be the perfect end to your incredible day in Naples.
Related article: The 6 Best Hidden Attractions in Naples